Understanding the New 2015 Dressage Tests

Janet Foy explains how the 2015 dressage tests have changed

Keeping to its schedule of publishing new dressage tests every four years, the USEF revealed the 2015 tests in November 2014. The USEF Test Writing Committee, a subcommittee of the USEF Technical Dressage Committee made up of a small group of trainers, riders and judges, starts work on new tests three years in advance by communicating with the USDF Test Writing Committee about comments and suggestions collected about the current tests. During these discussions, the philosophy of the new tests will be decided. For example, when I was on the USEF committee (I was on through four test cycles, or 16 years, up until 2012), we all felt that Second Level was lacking in collection and we discussed many ways in which we felt the tests could be improved to help the riders learn and train better collection. Hence, the appearance of simple changes (canter–walk–canter) into the tests.

(Credit: Dusty Perin)

The goal for the 2015 cycle was to make the tests more progressive. Olympic judge Gary Rockwell, who chaired the USEF Test Writing Committee for 2015, explains, “In Second Level, the three-loop counter canter serpentine was in Test One. We felt that this was more difficult than the counter-canter patterns in Test Three. So, to that end, we made Second, Test One easier and moved the three-loop counter-canter serpentine to Test Three.”

Many of the changes were made to allow the judges to have a better view of the movement. For example, the flying change in the old Third Level, Test Three was on the centerline, which made it difficult for the judges to evaluate. Now, for a better view, this change has been moved to a diagonal line.

There are a few new movements for 2015, including one from the old Grand Prix test, the “swing.” This movement is a test of the horse’s suppleness and obedience and can be found in the new Fourth Level, Test Three. Following is a summary of the changes in each of the levels:

Changes in Collective Marks

The Harmony score has been removed and there are now five scores: Gaits, Impulsion, Submission and two Rider scores. Some new wording has been added for the directives. In Submission, judges will now look for “willing cooperation” and “straightness.” In the score for Rider’s Position and Seat, judges will look for alignment, posture, stability, weight placement and the following of the mechanics of the gaits. In the score for Rider’s Correction and Effective Use of the Aids, judges will look for clarity, subtlety, independence and accuracy of the movements. This last score also will address the use of the corners.

Through the Levels

Riders will see more canter in Training Level, Test One. The canter circles also have been moved, with one at A and one at C. The canter depart is now on the first quarter of the circle, so a three-quarter circle of canter is required. A short diagonal of medium walk has been added to Training Level, Test Two. Otherwise, Training Level, Test Two is unchanged. The Regional Championship Qualifying Test, Training Level, Test Three is also unchanged. The option of sitting or posting is still available. 

In First Level, the trot lengthenings in the first two tests will be on short diagonals, for example from S to F. The canter lengthenings follow suit, with the pattern asking for a lengthening from S to V. Transitions back are now shown on the first half of a 15-meter circle. Stretch circles are in visible locations for the judge. Leg yields are introduced in Test Two, but the biggest change comes in First Level, Test Three. The leg yields are ridden in a counter change of hand pattern and the two 10-meter circles are placed elsewhere. I think this is a big improvement. For young, big-moving horses, the old pattern was really difficult and hard for the rider to keep the horse balanced and thinking forward. The canter tour remains the same and the option of sitting or posting remains.

Second Level is quite different, due to the addition of more counter canter and the removal of renvers. In Second Level, Test One, an old pattern reemerges. There is a serpentine of three loops in canter with a simple change each time you cross centerline. Canter mediums are on a short line. The trot work includes shoulder-in and the medium trots are on a short diagonal. This test also includes a rein back. Second Level, Test Two has shoulder-in and travers. The new counter-canter pattern rides really well and is very inviting for the horse. Riders need to be careful about the accuracy of the half 20-meter circle from S to R, however. Second Level, Test Three has another old pattern returning: The shoulder-in is ridden to a 10-meter circle to the travers. Mediums in trot and canter are now on full lines. The three-loop serpentine in canter from the old Second Level, Test One has been moved to this test. 

Third Level has few changes. There is no gradual introduction to mediums or extensions in Test One; all are on full lines. Third Level, Test Two has quite a lot of trot work. Two renvers have been added along with the shoulder-in and half pass. To make up for the addition of the renvers, the two extra flying changes on the short diagonals have been removed. Test Three remains the same with the exception of the flying change, which has been relocated. After the half pass, which ends on centerline, the rider will make a half 10-meter circle and then proceed on the diagonal for the flying change.

Fourth Level, Test One has one change. The flying change after the half pass no longer requires counter canter to C. The change is on the long side at H and M. Canter half passes have been added to Fourth Level, Test Two and the pirouette pattern is like a triangle, starting with the line H to X. The working pirouette is then shown at X and the line returns to M. Instead of the three changes with no count on centerline, the changes required are now three changes every fourth stride. Fourth Level, Test Three is quite difficult, with the addition of several new movements. An old Prix St. Georges pattern appears in the canter. This new movement requires a half 10-meter circle in true canter, followed by a half 10-meter circle in counter canter. The rein back “swing” is a new addition. The first halt should be settled. The horse then steps back four steps and without halting steps forward four steps and, again without halting, steps back four steps before proceeding to trot. There should be no interruption of the fluidity during these transitions from the backward steps to the forward steps. In addition to flying changes every fourth stride, flying changes every third stride also now are required. 

The Directives

Riders and judges should be sure to examine the directive ideas. These directives will help guide you in learning what is the most important aspect of these new movements.

For Scribes

Scribes will notice the tests are a bit longer and don’t fit on one side of a sheet of paper anymore. However, the comment boxes are a bit roomier than before.

Comments Welcome

Remember that starting now, the USDF Test Writing Committee will begin to take comments and suggestions for the next test cycle. So be sure to send your suggestions to the USDF ( 

Janet Foy is an FEI “I” and USEF “S” dressage judge and an “R” sport-horse breed judge. She has officiated worldwide and is a member of the USEF International High-Performance Dressage Committee. A USDF “L” Education Program faculty member, she is a USDF gold medalist based in Colorado Springs, Colorado.






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